An endurance athlete’s ‘real food’ success story: making it work for you.

I got this email this week from a client that I have worked with since just before mid-year. She is an endurance athlete that came to me as her overall energy levels were low and she was carrying a few extra kilograms that she wasn’t used to.

We chatted through not only nutrition but lifestyle-related changes that she could make to help support her busy lifestyle. This included changes to her diet, additional supplemental support, working on sleep-related behaviours and finding the middle ground between ensuring adequate energy levels and losing body fat to a level that was sustainable and achievable. You can appreciate this is a delicate balance! I discussed with her that when we sorted her energy levels, the body fat loss would take care of itself – she was aware of this and that her energy levels were the priority.

As an endurance athlete she often trained at both ends of the day and came home late, stayed up a little later than she thought she should, and relied quite a bit on carbohydrate-based choices such as bread and cereal to boost her energy levels during the day. While she didn’t recognise it, I immediately flagged this as one of the reasons she was feeling exhausted. She was also hungry a lot, eating at multiple times during the day. This was another indicator that her food choices were not geared towards an optimal balance of good quality carbohydrate, protein and fat. A detailed discussion on her diet proved this to be true.

This client was very motivated to feel better, and took the suggestions that I made and found a way to work them into her lifestyle. We had four sessions together, the last being just before a race that she was doing – the first one for her in a while.

I asked if she minded if I shared her email – she was happy for me to do so.

“Thanks for the item on Thyroid on Fitter Radio this week – it was really helpful. Good to know low thyroid is not something you are necessarily stuck with for life.

Following our catch-up at the end of September I just thought I’d update you with how things have gone since then, and where I have found a really comfortable place with training and nutrition.

Update:

So in summary, I performed well at my last race and was very happy with my placing in my age group. I really noticed that getting extra sleep made a big difference to how I felt, two nights before the race I had 9 hours and felt amazing the next day.

My weight has stabilized at around 53kg so I think this is possibly the happy place for my body, and it’s the same as it was a couple of years ago when I was running at my best.  I feel good at this level and I’ve figured out how to keep it there – for me it’s:

  • at least 7.5 hours sleep;
  • not eating late; and
  • doing some kind of activity in the evening, even if that’s just a walk.

Food wise, what seems to be working and manageable is:

Prep: (crucial to ensuring that I’ve got options available during the week):

  • Bulk making a week’s smoothies at the weekend, then freezing and using during the week
  • Ordering Primal Kitchen for weekday lunches and weekend main meals
  • Making a few wraps at the weekend for weekdays when I do something straight after work. For example, Farrah chia wrap* with Vital Vegetables Slaw, lemon juice, a flavour (Thai spice mix, peanut butter or salsa) + a protein such as smoked salmon or chicken

*yes I know it’s has wheat in it and is a carb but it seems to give me enough energy/and is practical – if I eat fewer carbs than I am I don’t seem to have enough energy.  I have tried other things instead of a wrap like cabbage leaves/sushi sheets/… but they just don’t work as well, they fall apart. The thing that does work is the Vietnamese rice paper wraps but they are very fiddly so I would tend to buy the Farrah wraps instead – very good place in central Wellington to get them! 

Breakfast – usually 5:30-6:30 depending on day

  • Smoothie and a hot drink + a spoon of peanut butter – I usually make the smoothie quite thick and eat it out of a bowl with a spoon!
  • If I’m doing something hard-ish like a swim squad or a run/bike then I have something else too. This tends to be either a sachet of plain oat porridge with the smoothie on top, or 2 hard-boiled eggs with some salt (or on a race day 1-2 x banana depending on length or race).

Mid morning – usually have a coffee with rice milk but don’t need to snack much now. If I do it’s 1-2 Brazil nuts

Weekday lunch – usually eaten around 11am-noon

  • Primal kitchen – 1/2 a warrior size shared with partner + handful baby spinach
  • 2 squares of dark chocolate and maybe a couple of strawberries.
  • Raspberry white tea

Mid afternoon – usually have a Redbush tea with rice milk but don’t need to snack now. If I do it’s a carrot and maybe a few almonds.

Weekday dinner – on days when I do something around 5 or 6pm in the evening, I just eat this around 4pm which seems early but it gives me fuel for the activity then I don’t need to eat a meal later. This way I get a semi-fasted thing happening (as per train-low principles) without it feeling hard. And it means I don’t eat a bunch of rubbish in the afternoon. So it works!

  • Wrap
  • 2 squares of dark chocolate
  • Redbush or green tea

Evening – Usually have a hot drink (not caffeinated), and maybe a swig of wine or my partners beer, but I don’t need to snack as much now – if I do it’s because I’ve just been for a hard-ish training session or MTB ride, and, something like a gold kiwi and few nuts does the trick.

Weekends, similar but we have Primal Kitchen in the evening but I try make sure we eat early, like by 6. For lunch something like sardines on toast if at home with salad, or eggs on toast if we are at a cafe.

Overall

It’s working well and although probably to you getting Primal Kitchen for most of our main meals will probably seem like a bit of a cop out!! But actually takes the stress out of everything – otherwise I would end up doing all of the thinking ahead/planning for both of us on food and basically end up spending more of my free time on it which to me wouldn’t feel fair! (My partner is wonderful but he just isn’t as organised as me and has lean genes and the fastest metabolism on earth so can eat anything. To him, super healthy food isn’t so much of a priority). I think it also works out the same cost or cheaper, definitely frees up some time and makes logistics easier. I’m sure at some point in my life I’ll enjoy doing more food prep and cooking more but this works right now and keeps the balance of effort fair!**

I am planning on giving up triathlon after this summer and just focus on running, mostly trail running and doing other stuff I enjoy for fun.

So, that’s it! Thanks for everything and your podcast, the whole experience of getting nutrition consultation has been a really positive one and the result for me has been to shift a good couple of kilograms and change my mental attitude in a very positive way.  🙂 ”

You can see from the discussion of her food choices, her diet isn’t low carbohydrate per se – though it is definitely LOWER in carbohydrates than it was. There is a lot more protein here than what she was having, and overall the nutrient density has improved.

Overall I think this is such a good ‘real food’ success story and that’s why I asked if I could share it. Does she eat ONLY non-processed food? No – however it’s all about context and finding the middle ground with what can be achieved in the context of the individual’s lifestyle.  That, to me, is success. 🙂

Merry Xmas.

 

**to be clear, I don’t think that getting meals from a place like Primal Kitchen (or ordering through My Food Bag etc) is a cop-out at ALL. I think it’s a smart strategy to help people meet their nutrition goals and not fall back into bad habits that could contribute to poor overall health status. It’s really interesting here that it works out MORE cost effective too. It saves on buying food that they would have to throw out as they haven’t found the time to cook it. It also saves the temptation of just having toast or cereal in the evening, or a sandwich that doesn’t provide enough protein and important nutrients. Primal Kitchen is a great choice.

 

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